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Fandom is a weird thing. Most recently the world has been blighted by a plague of fangirls and boys, masquerading as Beliebers, Directoners and the 5SOS Family. Groups of people bombarding online platforms with inane drivel about these ‘bands’, followed by the occasional session of stalking. On the flipside of that, in a completely non-sinister way, Frank Turner has continued to inspire his own band of twenty-something fanatics who’ve lifted him to the heady heights of headlining Wembley and appearing at the 2012 London Olympics. It’s a completely different kind of fandom though, with just a hint of fanaticism. See, Frank Turner fans are less likely to have gelled hair stuck up like a half-pipe and are more likely to be wearing a Motorhead t-shirt, smoking a doob at a gig and telling you they don’t care about music until Kyuss reform and tour. But it’s this loyal cohort of Turnees (this is neither a thing, nor is it a word) who can be relied upon to get onboard with the ex-Million Dead frontman’s newest album, ‘The Third Three Years’.
I only say this, because as much fun as this record is, it’s just a glorified collection of acoustic covers, B-sides and live versions. It’s charming, there is no doubt. Hearing Turner emulate his heroes Bruce Springsteen on ‘Born to Run’, Freddie Mercury on ‘Somebody to Love’ and Paul McCartney on ‘Live and Let Die’ is a great bit of fun and will certainly pay off with his loyal following. But as a completely standalone album, it’s a little underwhelming, especially as it clocks in at well over an hour and it has some significant lull points. Which have you thinking, is this just a wee money spinner over the crimble period? But perhaps this is me just being a little bit too cynical.
On this record, Frank Turner does what he has been doing for the past decade, which is rewarding his loyal fanbase with a chest-load of gems and goodies. ‘Hits and Mrs’ is a delightfully Turner-esque song, where the Eton-educated frontman spins a yarn about feeling shit and then waking up with that special someone being there to make you feel good and give you cuddles. That’s a message we can all get onboard with. The final song on the album, a raucous live version of ‘Dan’s Song’ quite possibly encapsulates all that is good about the punk turned singer/songwriter. The folk sensibility, crossed with the kind of punk rock raucousness that reminds you of The Germs in their heyday. You’re instantly transported to the last time *you* went to a Turner gig (which, lucky for me, was at the place where he recorded the version of this song at the Engine Shed in Lincoln), and you instantly want to stand up tall and sing the final words of ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’.
Some of the original b-side tracks on this record stand out – in fact there’s a period on the album that feels like a full-on assault on Broken Britain: he blames the kids, their parents, the community leader, the media, politicians and just about everybody who lives on our ruddy rock. ‘Riot Song’ especially is a homage to the complete shitstorm that were the UK riots in 2011. Turner pretty much gives a run through of the entire hellish few nights: “last night the kids sent London alight / started out in Tottenham and the flames spread through the night / but they didn’t burn the banks down, and they didn’t fight the cops / they just burned down their own ends and robbed the shops”.
In hindsight, it’s easy to look back on this period and call on England’s community to rise up and help our fellow man. But at the time, let’s be honest – with kids causing absolute havoc on the streets and kicking anyone who moved funny, you can’t be lambasted for staying in your home and protecting your family – so on that side, I scorn at Turner’s cynicism. On the other side, I love the brutal honesty of how he’s explaining how there was no revolution, no real cause. Simply, “they just burned down their own ends and robbed the shops”. OK, the rhetoric in ‘Something of Freedom’, of pointing the finger at the yoofs is a bit tired, but some of the songwriting is absolute genius: “Yeah, you’re marching in matching Che Guevara t-shirts / it’s so damn conceited it’s starting to hurt / you’re born into freedom so you don’t know it’s worth / and you constantly speak of solutions / but you only repeat revolution”. It’s the silver-tongued Turner at his very, very best.
This is one for the fans. The people who love Frank Turner for his bare-faced wit, his endemic Britishness and his loyalty to the people who have brought him to the heady heights he is at now. So chuck that Motorhead t-shirt out of your sister’s Christmas stocking and grab a copy of ‘The Third Three Years’.
Actually, fuck it. Frank would want you to have both.
‘The Third Three Years’, a collection of b-sides, live cuts and rarities from Winchester singer/songwriter Frank Turner, is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings. Stream the piano version of ‘The Way I Tend to Be’ below.
Some things are better raw. A good steak at a French restaurant, par exemple – I believe the phrase is, walk the cow past a fire and cut a bit off. Sushi, being raw fish, is also of course best enjoyed raw. Music at its most raw is normally found during an artist’s infancy, when the band are too down on their arse to afford any frills and fancy production techniques. Or when they have a Foo Fighters-esque renaissance and decide to record everything on analogue in a garage.
Monterey are the former: a band starting out in every way. Even in their stock band photos, the three-piece look a bit awkward and a bit clumsy, as if you can hear their psyche telling them, “just try and look as normal as you can. Oh, make sure that bump in your jeans doesn’t look like you’ve got a rod-on too”. It’s almost as if you’ve asked a cartoon to ‘act casual’ and of course they’re going to either smoke a pipe or look as contrived as possible. But enough of those quasi-awkward situations.
Contrived is as far from where Monterey sits on the scale of genuineness. The lyrics are all brutally honest and relatable, yet without being patronising. From the onset of ‘Can’t Live Like This’, frontman Carter Henry paints a brilliant everyman picture as the band strives to hit all the right notes on their ‘Sailor’ EP. The four song long record is laden with clever changes of pace that demand your attention, and there are even a few choruses with hooks that like to get caught in your grey matter and won’t stop tugging. Ouch, sorry if you’re squeamish.
The licks on ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ are clever and the New Jersey trio manage to create a soaring soundscape that builds to an impressive crescendo. The title single has a nautical lick to it in the first 10 seconds and builds on to arguably the most anthemic chorus of the short EP, “remember all the times you said that you love me? How come now it’s hard to find the time”. The lyrics may be slightly clichéd, but the delivery of them for the final time smacks of a band who have certainly found their feet and a fair bit of promise on this record.
Certainly ones to watch, if not for hand-on-heart choral delivery, than for a propensity for awkward stock photography.
Monterey‘s new EP ‘Sailors’ is now available from their Bandcamp and iTunes.
I had the pleasure of seeing Hitchin’s most famous hat on the head of singer/songwriter James Bay at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC earlier this month, when he was on tour supporting Irish phenomenon Hozier. Following that tour, Bay embarked on his own tour of the UK and Ireland which continues into this week, coinciding with the release of his latest single ‘Hold Back the River’, out today.
At this point, the male singer/songwriter genre is so fully saturated that it has become difficult to distinguish one from the others. Newcomers to the scene have to develop and emphasise some unique aspect of their style in order to set themselves apart. Bay isn’t exactly a rookie, even at the young age of 24, having spent a fair amount of time honing his live skills on tour with Kodaline, John Newman, and Tom Odell. Aside from his ubiquitous wide-brimmed hat, Bay’s most distinctive characteristics are his melodic guitar style and his warm, rich vocal timbre. On the singer/songwriter spectrum, I’d put him somewhere between the pop-oriented sensibility of Luke Sital-Singh and the gospel tinge of Foy Vance or Hozier himself. He doesn’t have the pretentious alt-folk affectations of artists like Bon Iver, preferring to stick with a more straightforward guitar rock style, flavoured with both folk and blues.
The new EP release of ‘Hold Back the River’ includes 4 tracks, bookended by the title track in both studio version and a live performance recording from the Hotel Café in Los Angeles. The studio version emphasises the contrast between the halting rhythm in the opening vocal melody and the steady pulse of the drums, while the guitar melody plays up the naturalistic folk character in the lyrics. Bay’s vocals combine with hints of gospel harmony in the backing voices as the song builds to its anthemic chorus.
Second track ‘Sparks’ is much more pop-oriented, with crisper rhythms and angular blues guitar riffs. Its title is particularly appropriate: the friction between Bay’s husky singing voice and the sharp instrumental lines was electric enough to raise goose bumps on my arms.
The final two tracks on the EP, ‘Wait in Line’ and ‘Hold Back the River (live)’ are both stripped back to acoustic guitar and solo voice. ‘Wait in Line’ is particularly powerful in its starkness, allowing Bay’s emotive singing voice to take centre stage, both in its clear falsetto and its resonant full sound. For my money, the live version of ‘Hold Back the River’ is the real gem of this collection, as the dynamic and emotional contrasts are somehow more fully realized than in the studio arrangement.
James Bay is definitely one of those artists whose true energy comes across best in live performance. If he can find a way to translate that energy to his recordings, he will certainly establish himself as a force to be reckoned with among the singer/songwriter melee.
James Bay‘s new single ‘Hold Back Tte River’ is available now on Republic Records. You can read our previous coverage of the title track by watching the official video and viewing a live version of the single from Transmitter. James Bay is currently finishing off his November tour of the UK and Ireland. He will play a headline show at Koko in London on Thursday the 12th of February next year before heading out on a full spring tour in April.
If you’re a devotee of the harder end of the blues-rock spectrum, you owe it to yourself – contrary to the album’s title – to check out the new release from Bath rockers Kill It Kid. The defining feature of ‘You Owe Nothing’, in true Tap style, is the band’s willingness to turn everything up to 11. From the very first opening onslaught of ‘Black It Out’ – chopped-up guitars compete with an enormous fuzz bass to create a noise that could be the sound of two space robots hitting each other – the listener is left in no doubt that these guys mean to punch a hole in one’s eardrums… and have a party whilst doing it.
On ‘Sick Case of Loving You’, Kill It Kid reveal their party piece. Pianist Stephanie Ward steps forward to share lead vocal with Chris Turpin, and as their voices intertwine, one realises just how rare the female voice is in a rock context, and just how refreshing it is to hear it. In what can be an overly testosterone-soaked genre, Ward proves how capably a female voice can enhance the listening experience, both from an auditory and emotional perspective. She gets centre stage on ‘Blood Stop and Run’ and it’s a highlight of the whole album, in no small part due to her performance.
After a three-track hard rock introduction, along comes the obligatory power-ballad in the shape of ‘Caroline’. Competent though it is, the band displaying quite spectacular commitment in wringing every ounce of emotive power from their performances, it’s perhaps where Kill It Kid admit they’re not afraid to be derivative when required. Gone is the interstellar guitar choppery, replaced by something that sounds like a Bon Jovi B-side. From 1992. And from that point on it’s difficult to escape the subtle but persistent whiff of cliché.
The second half of the album is comprised of mildly suspect romance-based double entendres seemingly inspired by Monty Python’s “Say No More” sketch. ‘I’ll Be the First’, ‘Don’t It Feel Good’, ‘Tried Used Loved Abused’ – they’re all laden with sexual overtones, with Stephanie Ward even making some bedroom-style noises at times. No complaints, and given the gender balance it can’t truly be called ‘cock rock’, but the overtones are certainly there – this is a record with sex on its mind.
Despite occupying the same genre segment, it’s a tall order to meet the standards of hard rock that were set in the ’80s and ’90s by legendary bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses, and despite a strong effort, Kill It Kid can’t quite reach those heights. Bath simply can’t provide the depth of sleaze as L.A., and that shows in the songwriting. What we’ve got here is a tamer, if perhaps more refined, sound. Still, it’s the first thing in years that gets close, and for that they deserve kudos – and a round of Jack.
Kill It Kid’s new album ‘You Owe Nothing’ is out today on Sire / Warner Brothers Records.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 10th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
If the story of London band Wolf Gang was ever made into a film, it would be one that came out at Christmastime for the whole family. Because as the group stands now, it is a family. And the family that plays together stays together, am I right?
We first wrote about Wolf Gang on TGTF 5 years ago when it was solely a project of Max McElligott, a former student at the London School of Economics who dropped out to do music instead of bean counting. And music he did, did well, and of a stunning, orchestral variety. It took some time for McElligott to find the right members for his live band but as fate would have it, he found the perfect brothers to continue his musical journey with: Gavin Slater on guitar, James Wood on bass and Lasse Petersen on drums, as well as more recent addition Beau Holland to assist on keyboards and guitar on the road. When it came time to record a follow-up to his 2011 debut solo album, McElligott says, “we immediately had this chemistry, so it was a really easy decision to move on from ‘Suego Faults’ to recording this next album together with the four of us, so as a result it sounds really different because of it”.
What was most unexpected about ‘Suego Faults’ was its maturity despite McElligott being in his early 20s. ‘Alveron’, then, can be described as a great next step evolutionarily for the band, showing further maturity, as well as an understanding of how the industry is evolving as well. The evidence begins from the first notes of opening ‘Now I Can Feel It’, whose bluesy, r&b vibe shows an appreciation of what’s popular in America today. Make no mistake though: it’s still clearly Wolf Gang, with a classic pop sensibility that McElligott does so well, but with an edge.
You can feel this edge through most of this album, so much as you’re spinning this record, it feels like you’re Meg Ryan on her bicycle at the end of City of Angels. There is a bit of danger in it all, you accept this, but oh man, you close your eyes and it feels good, you’re loving life. This is the curious juxtaposition of McElligott’s powerful, dramatic lyrics with the uplifting instrumentation of Wolf Gang, now working together as a four-piece full band. The band consciously recorded this album to capture as much of the energy from their live shows as possible, and you can hear this vitality throughout the album.
Previous releases ‘Black River’, ‘Lay Your Love Down’ and ‘Back to Life’ are love songs but not in the traditional sense, and the band should be commended for not falling into the trap of going for the obvious. The message of ‘Back to Life’ in particular is noteworthy: you may have lost all hope from a previous heartbreak, but you will survive from it stronger. You will soon realise that person no longer in your life gave you some keys to life so you can love better the next time, and McElligott’s voice soars to reflect the positivity of the piece.
Numbers ‘Into the Fire’ and ‘Underneath the Night’ are both upbeat in tempo and the lyrics run appropriately buoyant, the former insisting, “your life is what you make it, with reasons to believe”. ‘Last Bayou’ also falls into a similar mould; the song appeared as a standout on the ‘Black River’ EP released in April, with its melodic guitar line and the youthful declaration “these young dreams are all we breathe”. The LP closes out with title track ‘Alveron’, another inspiring tune for you to wave those legendary flags at Glasto to. Oh wait, we’re in winter now, aren’t we…keep forgetting that.
The slower songs on the album feel like when you throw water onto a campfire: you can still see the glowing embers, but the vitality is lacking. Like the disappointment felt seeing a film after reading the book it was based on, the album version of ‘Ghost in My Life’ fails to deliver on record in light of me having the benefit of seeing it performed live with nothing but acoustic guitar accompanying McElligott’s voice, which was absolutely beautiful. The ghostly feeling of the instrumentation is possibly done too well, with the strings disorientating and the trumpet just a tad too loud and gay with McElligott’s otherwise desperate words, “and I want you to know, that I need you to stay / would you try to let go, if I stood in the way? / and I need you to see now, there’s nowhere to hide / if tonight you should leave as the ghost in my life”. A less is more approach probably would have served the otherwise poignant song better. ‘Frozen Lands’ attempts for orchestral epicness, but its breathy echoing dampens the effect they were trying to achieve.
Still, if the band was shooting to make an album with an overall mood of optimism, I’d say they’ve hit the nail on the head with ‘Alveron’. Smart songwriting, catchy and tight instrumentation and wow, a positive message! What more could you ask for?
‘Alveron’, the second album from London indie pop band Wolf Gang, is out now on Cherrytree / Interscope Records. Watch a behind the scenes making of the album video below, narrated by the band, below.
When I’ve listened to Damien Rice‘s music in the past, I’ve always found it to be brutal, hard on both the heart and the hearing. His debut album ‘O’ was lyrically edgy, with songs like ‘Volcano’ and ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, and second album ‘9’ was full of angst and frustration, as evidenced by the pugilistic refrain of ‘Rootless Tree’. So when Rice announced after an 8-year hiatus that he would be releasing a new album, I winced internally at the prospect. Surprisingly though, Rice’s latest effort, titled ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, is more subtle and introspective than his earlier work, and it displays a greater degree of musical elegance.
Opening with eponymous track ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, the album immediately displays a bit of a theatrical flair. Starting off as a desperate torch song, it calls to mind the main character in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. The music is a metaphorical mix of poignant melody and ever-so-slightly discordant harmony that eventually succumbs to an almost frenetic sadness. The instrumental arrangement of ‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ is similarly beguiling, featuring an unusually complex counterpoint woven among the vocal line, the contemplative piano riff and the soaring string melody.
Rice employs an impressive level of vocal sensitivity in ‘The Greatest Bastard’, where he approaches the melodicism of bel canto style while still maintaining his typically rough, emotionally-charged vocal timbre. He makes effective use of his falsetto throughout the album, but in the full voice moments in the chorus of this track, he squarely hits the intersection between beautiful singing and potent expression.
Lyrically, Rice is somewhat more restrained on this album than I might have expected, though he hasn’t lost his sense of viscerally evocative poetry, such as the “dogless bone” simile of ‘Colour Me In’. Recent single ‘I Don’t Want to Change You’ is probably the most predictable track on the album, though its repetitive chorus doesn’t necessarily hinder the song’s beauty or its effectiveness. Placed in the middle of the track sequence, it provides a nice mental respite from intensity of the first three songs, and without breaking the general mood of the record.
Where ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ opens its namesake album with a hazy trip down memory lane, final tracks ‘Trusty and True’ and ‘Long Long Way’ close the album with a feeling of looking ahead to the future. The symmetry is appealing, but despite the length and expansiveness of the individual tracks (‘It Takes a Lot to Know a Man’ comes close to 10 minutes all on its own), the end of the album feels a bit abrupt, like a film screen gone black before the ending is assured. I’m of two minds on the issue of the overall tracklisting: on one hand, the concise length conveys what Rice wants to say without extra fluff or froth; on the other, the lack of denouement and resolution in the last two tracks left me wishing for something more.
Performed without the softening effect of Rice’s former partner Lisa Hannigan, the songs on this album depend on the strength of his own singing and the endurance of his love for the act of songwriting. Rice himself describes the new album as being “sung straight into the metaphorical mirror”, which may account for his somewhat gentler approach. Known for being a perfectionist and temperamental, Rice has apparently calmed those self-critical tendencies with the assistance of producer Rick Rubin (Angus and Julia Stone, Jake Bugg, Ed Sheeran), who convinced Rice to “open up and have faith in the songs”. These are certainly songs worth believing in, and the album is well worth the lengthy wait.
Damien Rice’s third studio album ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’ is available now on Atlantic Records. He will play a sold out show at the London Palladium this Friday, the 7th of November. Previous TGTF coverage of Damien Rice can be found here.
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